"....Today's debate echoes that of the nation's founders in another, more profound way. Does allowing a small number of families to accumulate great wealth -- increasing from generation to generation -- harm democracy? The United States Constitution's ban on inherited titles met with unanimous approval because of the perceived threat posed by lords and earls to a democratic republic. Similarly, Americans have always understood that establishing a small group of families with seemingly unlimited wealth, social privilege, and political power undermines a fundamental American principle: that all citizens are legally and politically equal.
Some founders wanted to eliminate inheritance entirely. In a letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson suggested that all property be Redistributed every fifty years, because "the earth belongs in usufruct to the living."
Madison gently pointed out the plan's impracticality. Benjamin Franklin unsuccessfully pushed for the first Pennsylvania constitution to declare Concentrated wealth "a Danger to the happiness of mankind."
At the other end of the spectrum, the Constitutional Convention decided to forbid the English practice of allowing the government to seize the entire estate of a person convicted of treason. They reasoned that the property even of citizens who had committed the highest crimes against the nation should not be wholly confiscated.
But, again like today, most people held views in between. By the 1770s, because of the practices of primogeniture (requiring all property to go to the deceased's first son) and entail (allowing families to will property that could never be divided or sold), along with rich families' penchant for land speculation, about three-quarters of Virginia's good land was owned by only a few hundred families, out of a population of around 400,000. Pressed by the small farmers and landless men on whom it depended for military service, Virginia banned primogeniture and entail in 1777. Virginia reached a compromise: Rich families didn't lose their land, but large estates got Broken up over time, thereby loosening the richest families' grip over Virginia's economy and politics.
So, as with other political issues—even independence itself—Revolutionary-era Americans held a range of views on how much property people should be allowed to pass on to their children. But one thing is certain: They hoped to Prevent the emergence of a small group of people with Perpetual wealth and thus Perpetual privilege. Keeping a robust estate tax today would further that goal,
and it would be consistent with a long-standing tradition of American democracy.